Computer Viruses – What Are They and What is Their Purpose?

Anyone that has ever owned a computer has either heard about or experienced a computer virus. recently reported that “before the month is even done, April has set a record for virus emails.”

Gone are the days when new computer users were told about the rarity of viruses and that there was no need to worry. Countless news reports have since validated the worry over computer viruses, but what exactly is a virus?

Basically a computer virus is a software program designed to destroy or steal data. These viruses are most often sent through email attachments, software downloads, and some types of advanced web scripting. Different viruses cause different types of damage to your computer; Trojan horses destroy data, bombs explode through your system, and worms duplicate themselves, destroying or corrupting data as they go. These viruses can be combined into even more deadly forms but they can usually be identified by their location on your computer.

Boot Sector Virus – Most early forms of virus were boot sector because it required a removable device such as a floppy disk or CD to reach your machine. These viruses activate when you reboot your system and will infect any other floppies inserted afterwards. They have the potential to take up memory or freeze your system.

File Virus – This is a virus that infects other files on your system. Otherwise known as the ‘classic’ form of virus, it is also the most common and easiest to distribute. Some forms of file virus are able to hide themselves by changing aspects of their code with each infection.

Multipart Virus – This file infects both the boot sector and files. These types of viruses were fairly common when most computers operated on a DOS system but declined when integrated operating systems became the norm.

Who created the first virus and why remains a mystery; however, one virus programmer was willing to explain the motivation behind his destruction. According to this programmer, a popular online service (which will remain unnamed) failed to provide quality protection for children against what he considered to be online smut. To retaliate, he created and distributed a virus to as many file libraries of this service as he could find. His intention: to disable the computers of the people using this service, preventing them from connecting to the internet for days at a time, thus causing the service to lose revenue and customers.

Did it work? Somewhat. A small percentage of users were affected but the company in question is still alive and well, doing business today. Despite the programmers worthy intentions to save children from things best left unseen, his efforts were futile. There are probably many well intentioned motives for creating and distributing a virus, none of which take into account the damage done to an innocent bystander through a virus programmers ‘good intentions’.

What can be done if you have a virus? To protect from getting or cleaning out an existing virus, an antivirus utility is needed. There are many of these available today but maybe there is another way. Education and Communication are the key. Perhaps educating the people creating the viruses about the damage done to innocent people and providing a way to communicate their dissatisfaction effectively will reduce the news stories and protect investments.